So, critics haven’t been allowed to screen G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, but those of us with fond memories of colorful army characters exchanging poorly-targeted red and blue laser fire with colorful bad guys all with really cool jets and tanks zipping around have our fingers crossed in hopes of a pretty fun ride. I did, however, get to sit down with Byung Hun-Lee, a South Korean superstar who is making his American film debut as Storm Shadow, the iconic morally-conflicted ninja badass in service of Cobra: The Enemy, and managed to glean a little more information about the popcorn flick, and the possibility of an eventual crossover with the Transformers movies – both Paramount franchises with a long shared history.
Q: How do you like your first American film experience?
Byung Hun-Lee: It was so interesting. Amazing. When I first got here, it was a little bit hard to settle down, because it was my first experience. Especially the language was so different, but as time went by, it’s familiar. I had fun.
Q: What do you think of the finished film? Have you seen it?
BHL: I saw it. I was shocked, a little bit. I didn’t know what it was, because we’ve been filming in a studio so we had to imagine a lot when we are acting. So after the premiere, Sienna Miller and I talked about that. “Did you see that?” “Yeah, I saw that.” “It was amazing, wasn’t it?” “Yeah, I was shocked.”
Q: Were you familiar at all with G.I. Joe, coming from Korea?
BHL: No, not at all. It’s not well-known. When I first got the script, I didn’t know what it was. I had to learn about G.I. Joe.
Q: What grabbed you about Storm Shadow?
BHL: Even though he’s a villain, he’s still got his pride, and he’s so mysterious, so strong and a powerful martial arts expert. I realized that there are a lot of Storm Shadow fans.
Q: He’s pretty much one of the two biggest badasses in the movie, alongside his nemesis Snake-Eyes (Ray Park). Do you think you could actually take Ray in a fight?
BHL: [laughs] No. His personality is so nice, I’ve never imagined that. You never know!
Q: There’s a long history between Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes. How much of that is in the film?
BHL: Stephen Sommers said even if you don’t know about G.I. Joe at all, you can enjoy this film. I think they showed the history between Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes well. It’s easy to understand what happened in the old days. But the more deep story is going to be in the second part, I think.
Q: Are you signed on for a sequel?
BHL: Yeah. Stephen told me that if this movie is successful, they’re going to make part two, three.
Q: How tough was the stuntwork as compared to what you’re used to?
BHL: It’s a lot different. In Korea, we got a lot of time to discuss the scenes and the characters and a lot of ideas during the filming with the director. Sometimes, if somebody’s sick or the conditions are bad, they usually delay the shooting date. It’s more flexible. But in the States, they planned it out so well, so I always had to be at the shooting place at 6 in the morning, and we always finished at 6 in the afternoon. It’s almost the same every day. That was so impressive. It’s good for making schedules after that, but sometimes it’s hard to stand it. Even if I’m in a bad condition, I still have to wake up early and be at that shooting place. I’m not familiar with those kinds of systems, but I was getting used to it and I could enjoy it.
Q: Were you feeling hurt during the production, or just tired from all the work?
BHL: I had to make my body perfect, so I always had to work out so hard, so sometimes I felt tired. But still, I had to wake up early. I had an injury in my knee – the ligament was ripped by a kick, so I had to actually rest, but fortunately I had some time to rest.
Q: When did you rip the knee? What was the kick?
BHL: It’s from Korean tae kwon do. I did it three times, but I didn’t like it so I asked the director to do it once more, so I did it like 13 times, and in a sudden moment, I couldn’t move. I didn’t know why. I was intense, so I couldn’t feel it, but somebody heard some sound, but I didn’t know it. I had to go the hospital and I took an MRI and the doctor said it was ripped.
Q: What was the most challenging part of your work on the film?
BHL: My martial arts is based on tae kwon do, so I’d never done swords before. I had to learn and practice a lot. Ray Park is a good martial arts expert with the sword already, but this was my first experience. I had to have a lot of training with him and the stunt guys. At first, it was a little bit hard, but as time went on, it was really fun and I was getting used to it.
Q: The original G.I. Joe cartoon was very much tied in with the Transformers cartoon, and from what I’ve seen of the film, it seems to be trying to go for the same aesthetic, the same look as the Transformers movies. Is that something Sommers was going for?
BHL: I don’t think so, because both of them are based on the famous cartoons, but I think G.I. Joe is more realistic compared to that movie. There are a lot of futuristic weapons in GI Joe, but Stephen told me those weapons are now being investigated and developed that we’ll see in the near future. But Transformers… *rolls eyes*
Q: In the comic books, Transformers and G.I. Joe have been in the same story. Since they’re both Paramount, would you like to have G.I. Joe go fight the Transformers?
BHL: [laughs] Like Alien vs. Predator? No. Lorenzo (di Bonaventura) and Stephen told me that after G.I. Joe, they can make Storm Shadow vs. Snake-Eyes. That kind of movie can be made.